17a - XVII -- The Sacraments
XVII. The Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Sam Pace writes: Several years ago one of the Elders in the congregation I preached for baptized a particularly large woman. He was concerned about how he would completely immerse her into the water and decided to explain to her how she could help him. He explained, “Now, when we get down into the water this is what I want you to do. When I say, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, I want you to squat as if you were about to sit in a chair.” The woman understood the instruction and they went down into the water together. The Elder raised his hand and said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy squat!” While most of us chuckled inside a bit we all understood what he really meant.
One lady wanted to know what she would feel when she was baptized. The minister didn’t know how to answer, and gave her varied responses. When he put her under the water, her body stiffened and her eyes popped open. The look on her face was a mixture of excitement and surprise. And all the preacher could think was “Hey, Lord, How come I didn’t get that!” As he pulled her up from the water, she put her hand on the back of her head; only then did he realize what had happened. He had moved toward one end of the baptistery, and when he had lowered her into the water, he had smacked the back of her head onto the baptistery steps!
This morning we are going to start looking at the sacraments which the Wesleyan Church celebrates. Some Christian denominations will tell you that there are up to seven sacraments, which include baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, matrimony, orders, penance, and extreme unction or anointing. There are some that even include the act of washing one another’s feet – like Jesus did for the disciples. But we don’t totally agree with all of these. Jesus did not tell us to wash each others feet, although that is a very special event, nor did He tell us about penance the way that some churches look at it. Yes, He did tell us to repent and ask forgiveness – but He told us to ask that of God, not man. And we do not look at matrimony as a sacrament, even though we dedicate a marriage to God and ask for His being with the union.
But there are two sacraments that we believe Jesus commanded us to keep. Those being the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Today, we are going to look at the first one, baptism. Article 17, The Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, states:
We believe that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ and ordained as a means of grace when received through faith. They are tokens of our profession of Christian faith and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.
We believe that water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord and administered to believers. It is a symbol of the new covenant of grace and signifies acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. By means of this sacrament, believers declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. (Discipline)
“We believe that water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord and administered to believers.” There are many churches that have done away with the sacrament of baptism – they feel that it has become outdated and all a person has to do is just believe in Jesus Christ. Of course you have to believe in Him and His power, but Jesus Himself gave the command to us that we are to be baptized. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) This is very cut and dry about what has to happen – Jesus said, no one can enter the kingdom of God – unless he is born of water and Spirit. This verse is often used by religions that say even infants must be baptized. But what we have to remember is that only someone who knows the Lord and is able to understand His working in their lives is held accountable. In other words, if a person can understand the need for Jesus and understand what sin is, they must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and be baptized.
Again, keep in mind that Jesus said a person must be born of water and the Spirit. Of these two, Spirit is the most important – because being born of the Spirit indicates a change of heart – where as being born of water – is an outward sign of what has happened inside. When a person is baptized in water, they are saying to all those present, “I have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and I believe in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Why do I bring this up? Because a person will often accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and have to wait to be baptized – and if we read this passage of Scripture without using some common sense it would seem that if, while this person was waiting to be baptized, they were killed in an auto accident, they would not get into heaven – but our God is more understanding than that – the baptism of the heart by the Holy Spirit is enough to take them to the kingdom of God. But we must strive to accomplish what Jesus called us to do – to be baptized in water.
Where did this baptism thing come from? After all, the New Testament never tells us where it came from, but from Scripture we know that it was understood by all. Well, it most likely arose among Christians from the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts to Judaism when they were circumcised. It was a ceremonial cleansing. Remember, according to the Jews, Gentiles were dirty, filthy people – after circumcision they were cleansed from their old filth, into the clean life of the Jews. And in like manor, we are cleansed from a dirty life into the clean life of Christ. This is easy to see when we look at this passage in Colossians 2:11-12:
In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
If you have been around the Christian church for any length of time you have heard arguments about the proper way to baptize – I mean, full immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. When the Christian church first started, it seems as though full immersion was the accepted way to baptize, but there came a problem – when there were thousands to baptize it could take days to do it. Remember what we read last week in Acts chapter 2? When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost there were over 3000 baptized, that day! So, pouring and sprinkling also became accepted ways to baptize and we as Wesleyans feel that all three are acceptable – although the preferred method for me personally is full immersion sometimes that is hard to do. When thinking about the three ways to baptize think about this:
A Methodist pastor said to a Baptist pastor, “If I immerse somebody just up to his ankles, is that enough?” “No,” answered the Baptist. “How about up to his knees?” “Nope.” “How about up to his shoulders?” “No sir!” “You mean I’ve go to get the water over the top of his head?” “That’s right.” Says the Baptist. “Good,” says the Methodist. That proves that it’s the top of the head that’s the important part to get wet and that’s what we do – sprinkle the head.
Something else we need to keep in mind is that we are not baptized in the name of Jesus only, but are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, the 8th chapter, Luke records these words:
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Ac 8:12-17)
Again, in this passage we are reminded that it was men and women who were baptized – in other words, those that were of age to understand what they were hearing. And did you notice what it said, Philip had only baptized in the name of Jesus and because of that the Holy Spirit had not yet come to them. Not only that, Jesus says in Matt. 28:19, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That is why we baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now baptism was not just for the people of Jesus’ day, but Jesus commanded that people of all nations be baptized.
Going back to Article 17 it says: By means of this sacrament, believers declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. There is something about being baptized that pulls us all together. When we see someone being baptized, we all tend to think back to that time when we were baptized. It unites us together. Somewhat like the way basic training brings a group of people from all over the U.S. and joins them together as one unit, baptism unites us and joins together with people from all over the world from every generation, tribe and tongue into one family, the Christian family, the family of God.
I can remember being both terrified and having a feeling of unbelievable joy, at the same time when I was baptized. What an awesome experience. Everyone has a different feeling and yet our Christian walk starts the same way with a walk of humility. We humble ourselves by first saying that we can not do it on our own, we need to have the help of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We stand in front of other believers and proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and then we humble ourselves by being baptized, doing what Jesus called us to do.
I want to leave you with one last passage – Saul had just received his sight back by the laying on of hands by Ananias. Saul had received Jesus into his heart and then Ananias asked him a question and it is the same question I want to ask you this morning if you have never received Jesus as Lord and Savior and have never been baptized or maybe you were baptized as an infant and have never made that decision on your own, think about what Ananias said to Saul. This comes from the book of Acts the 22 chapter, Ananias says, And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)